Vanilla: properties and uses

Vanilla: properties and uses

Vanilla is a tropical orchid that grows on trees, its fruits, pods and seeds are used for several purposes. There are 110 vanilla variants that give beautiful white, slightly yellow or green flowers that grow on trees in forests and jungles in their natural state. These species are native to Central America (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras…). The conquerors adopted them and little by little they became popular in the old world and elsewhere. Today vanilla is produced in Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia, in the Pacific Islands such as the Cook Islands and Tahiti, Turkey, the Comoros Islands, China, the West Indies and Seychelles. These orchids begin to produce fruit after three years, their pods measure between 5 and 22cm. They are pollinated and harvested by hand, which is why it’s an expensive product. The plants are productive for 10 years. The fruit is normally harvested while it’s still immature and fermented to intensify its aromas and make the vanilla extract. Another alternative is to let the pods dry in the sun so they unfold their aromatic potential since when they are still in the plant, they do not have perfume.

Vanilla is widely used in the preparation of pastry products, cakes, cookies, puddings and mousses. Besides, it’s used as a flavouring for beverages, soft drinks, spirits and liqueurs. Chocolates, yoghurts, candies, ice creams and even some foods contain vanilla in their preparation. In addition to this, the perfume and cosmetology industry uses vanilla as a component for scents, candles, essential oils, incenses, identifying aromas of articles for mass consumption, and cosmetics such as creams, conditioners, lotions, etc.

We can buy it in the form of vanilla extract, seeds, dehydrated pods, essential oil or vanilla paste (which is obtained by grinding the pods). There is a synthetic version that imitates natural vanilla extract, obviously of lower quality and without therapeutic properties, its technical name is vanillin.

Using vanilla beans or natural extract in your meals is an excellent way to flavour and aromatize your preparations. In addition to pastries, it’s interesting to incorporate vanilla when you make roasted fruits, compote, marmalade, jam, and for coffee or tea water, which will give an exquisite flavoured coffee or tea. Cloves and cinnamon can be added to aromatic infusions.

Homemade vanilla ice cream

Coconut & vanilla Panna Cotta

Vanilla citrus souffle

Fish with vanilla sauce & white wine


If you wish, you can add vanilla essence or vanilla ice cream to your favorite cocktail, it combines very well with nut liqueurs, Irish creams and whisky. Here we go with some examples for you to try at home:

– Vanilla ice cream with scotch whisky. See recipe Don Pedro

– Vanilla ice cream with Kahlúa (coffee liqueur)

– Vanilla ice cream with Amaretto (almond liqueur)

– Vanilla ice cream with Frangélico (hazelnut liqueur)


Vanilla has multiple medicinal and therapeutic properties, taking it as an infusion, or using its paste and essential oil version.

– It’s an antioxidant, it protects cells from free radicals that are generated in cellular metabolism, functioning as a preventive against cancer.

– It’s analgesic, it helps fight sore muscles and sore throats.

– It’s antibacterial and antiseptic, it helps to prevent infections and acne.

– It’s anti-inflammatory, it even helps prevent neuroinflammation.

– It’s digestive, stimulates the production of bile and accelerates digestion.

– Is useful against heartburn and stomach problems.

– Reduces gases and bloating.

– Improves mood, because it contains a substance called hydroxybenzaldehyde with antidepressant properties.

– It activates estrogen hormones, which regulates the menstrual cycle.

– Improves hair growth and strengthening. Essential oil is normally used for this purpose.

– It has relaxing properties, helps to alleviate stress, irritability and anxiety.

– It has a sedative effect that promotes sleep (aromatherapy).

– Helps fight halitosis (bad breath), gives a fresh taste to your mouth.

– Helps the liver and gallbladder to recover after food poisoning.

– Strengthens the immune system.

– Contributes to regenerate the skin and eliminate impurities.

– It has aphrodisiac powers, activates testosterone and estrogens that intervene in libido.

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